Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

2012 Mexico: Puerto Vallarta

by Kathy 4. December 2012 17:47

Back to Puerto Vallarta Index Page

<< Yelapa | Historic Puerto Vallarta >>


Life and Art in Puerto Vallarta

I had visited Puerto Vallarta over 20 years ago on my only cruise ship experience—a “girls gone wild” blur of memories that are perhaps best left tucked away. My limited recollection of the city was a wide stretch of beach with a lot of restaurants and bars that catered to tourists. Since that time, many more high-rise condos and all-inclusive resorts have been built, and the city’s popularity as a vacation destination has ballooned. So for this trip, I was expecting to find a fairly sterile environment, without a lot of cultural flavor remaining. Boy was I wrong.

It’s funny how this trip flipped my expectations upside down. The small towns that I thought would be quaint and relaxing left me disillusioned. And what I thought would be the “touristy” big city of Puerto Vallarta was a vibrant place with layers of rich culture, many gracious and welcoming residents, and a variety of fun activities.

A huge “thank you” goes to Ben’s dad, who generously invited us to Puerto Vallarta in the first place, and loaned us his condominium. The location was ideal—right on the edge of the historic old town area and within walking distance to everything in the heart of the city.

We had a grand view overlooking the Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead):

To our right, the coastline curved north along the Bay of Banderas, and we could see some modern high-rise hotels in the distance:

Best of all, we were just a few steps away from the Malecón, a beachside promenade/boardwalk that extends along the coast, past restaurants, nightclubs, shops, street performers, vendors, and public art galore.

A daily stroll along this newly-renovated, ¾ mile pedestrian walkway was one of our favorite activities in Puerto Vallarta. The Malecón was a focal point for local residents and visitors alike, and there was always something—or someone—fascinating to watch.

Genevieve, Ben and Sebastian on the Malecón:

At the southern end of the Malécon was an outdoor stage next to 4 arches (Los Arcos), one of the famous icons of Puerto Vallarta.

At night, the arches would be a backdrop for musicians, actors or other groups performing on the stage.

A duet of musicians:

A mime's theatrics involved a lot of pelvic thrusts and grunting, so we didn’t stay long:

One of the most uplifting parts of the Malecón was the knock-your-socks-off display of public art. And we could touch it—no ringing bells and guards running to warn you to stay behind a line on a museum floor. Indeed, the sculptures practically begged for us to interact with them.

My favorite was the ladder reaching up to the sky with two figures near the top, dangling one arm and one foot off the rungs:

The work was called “In Search of Reason” by artist Sergio Bustamante. I adored the puffy, triangular heads, which I could see up close on a third figure at the bottom of the ladder:

Many people speculate that the bottom figure is the mother of the two figures on the ladder. Her imploring expression could mean, “Get down from the ladder!” or (my choice) “Wait for me!”

Each time we neared this sculpture, Genevieve and Sebastian ran ahead to climb the ladder and pretend to be one of the sculptural figures (sometimes waiting in a line for this privilege):

Another favorite was a circle of bronze chair creatures called “La Rotunda del Mar” (the Rotunda of the Sea) by artist Alejandro Colunga.

The chairs had a fascinating blend of features, such as human feet on one, and a deep sea diver head on another:

Continuing with the surrealistic theme was a bronze figure with a shiny obsidian belly, ready to gobble up a stone dangling above his mouth:

By artist Jonas Gutiérrez, it is called “El Sutil Comepiedras” (The Subtle Rock-Eater).

Another figurative work embodied the love story between the artist Ramiz Barquet and his wife Nelly. They were childhood sweethearts, but married other people, and then found each other again when older. After reuniting, they had sat together one afternoon on the Malecón, reminiscing, and reflecting on the richness of life. Barquet created two figures to represent that moment, calling the sculpture “La Nostalgia”:

Two more figures, “Vallarta Dancers” were sculpted by artist Jim Demetro after he watched an electrifying performance of the Mexican Hat Dance by Puerto Vallarta's talented Xiutla dance troupe. The body postures and swirling skirt capture the rhythm and energy of the dance:

And in all this eclectic mix of Mexican art, there was of course the figure of a Catholic holy man—Saint Pascual Bailón, patron saint of cooks, with his loaf of bread:

The continual rise and crash of waves on one side of the Malecón was echoed in the curved tail of the “Unicornio de la Buena Fortuna” (Unicorn of Good Fortune) by artist Anibal Riebeling:

A connection to the sea was also reflected in two spiky steel sculptures that resembled giant sea urchins—“Eriza Dos” by artist Maritza Vasquez:

One of the most photographed sculptures in Puerto Vallarta is artist Rafael Zamarripa’s “Caballero del Mar” (Horseman of the Sea), which has stood on the Malecón since 1976:

At the very end of the Malecón was a newer sculpture, “The Millenium”, which presented forms of life spiraling upwards in an homage to evolution:

At the top, artist Mathis Lidice had placed a female form holding a dove:

Other Malecón art included a tile mural called “Vendedores de Pescado” (Fish Sellers) by artist Manuel Lepe:

Three playful dolphins decorated the Friendship Fountain, which was given to Puerto Vallarta by the sister city of Santa Barbara, California in 1987:

Sculptor James Bottoms allegedly selected dolphins because the Chumash Indian word for dolphin means “to go around, to protect, and to go in peace.”

In addition to the “official” public art, there was an abundance of other art forms along the Malecón.

The walkway contained many fanciful touches, such as this swirl of pebbles:

A number of merchants used skeleton folk art to attract customers.

The Hilo nightclub had giant figures inside, overlooking the entrance:

Outside one restaurant was a chair with a suitcase and big ceramic shoes that you could slip your feet into and pretend that you were Forrest Gump:

We didn’t eat there, but Sebastian acquired a new stuffed friend who he named Carmen (after “camarón”, the Spanish word for shrimp):

Then there were the “living” sculptures that tried to charm tourists out of some change.

This angel was one of our favorites; he came to life when Genevieve and Sebastian slipped some coins into his box:

Another creative pose was this waiter in a permanent state of falling:

(I kept thinking of how much his neck must hurt from holding it up like that all day.)

A few sand sculptors had created some temporary masterpieces along the few segments of beach that didn’t get submerged by the daily tides.

This man was tidying up the fish in his mermaid’s hair:

And even though Santa was long gone, this artist was blowing loose sand off his creation:

Another art form that we enjoyed on the Malecón was music. One evening, we happened upon a performance by the Navy Symphonic Band:

And, of course, there was the art of food—or sweets.

This street vendor had packages of neatly arranged rolled candy:

From another vendor, Genevieve and I bought a huge two-tone chunk of chewy coconut goodness:

And one could argue that doughnuts are not “art”, but perhaps they are in Puerto Vallarta:

And then there is the art of balance.

Midway down the Malecón was a small beach with a garden of stones balanced in seemingly impossible poses:

The stones hadn’t jumped into those positions by themselves, of course, and the miracle worker soon arrived, sporting a bare chest and skin that had been bronzed by many hours in the sun. He made some adjustments to an existing stack of three stones and then continued his balancing act:



He let go of the top rock and nimbly stepped backwards, just in time to avoid the tumbling stones that smashed down.

A collective “Awwwwww” sounded from the small audience gathered nearby, with my own voice adding to the chorus.

And what did the man do?

Why, he bent down and gently hoisted the second stone back onto the base rock.

And then he repeated the process by meticulously replacing the third stone.

The top stone had been broken when the tower fell, so the man began looking around for another.

The secret to this balancing act was not magic. Instead, a small sign asking for tips provided a tip of its own, revealing two key ingredients for equilibrium and balance: Concentration and Patience.

As this year comes to a close, and I shift things around and seek balance in my own life, I will remember the stone man’s teaching.

With its vibrant art and beauty, Puerto Vallarta was a feast for the eyes. And the soul.

The rest of Old Town, as well as the fun activities that we did while here, will be covered in future stories. I will note, however, that I finally got a good night’s sleep, with only the sound of the churning waves in the background. Bliss.


Back to Puerto Vallarta Index Page

<< Yelapa | Historic Puerto Vallarta >>


Comments (4) -

12/5/2012 7:56:42 AM #


i love this post.  i love the art - all of it.  it adds such a layer to the experience.  and i'm a sucker for dia de los muertos anything, have collected for years and there are some amazing artists doing pieces...did you see many/any in galleries or shops - or was it just the shop front knick knack stuff?  

ps: love "la rotunda" and the evolutionary piece with the woman and the dove - breath-taking.

becky United States | Reply

12/5/2012 9:08:10 AM #

Kathy Hensley

Becky, I'm so glad that you connected with all of the art in this story. Yes, there were many skeleton art creations in the galleries and shops, but the prices in Puerto Vallarta are probably higher than if you found them in a town that didn't receive such a large number of cruise ship visitors and other tourists. Regarding the public art, it is amazing how the works really add a layer of richness to a community. ❤ Kathy

Kathy Hensley United States | Reply

12/5/2012 8:48:02 AM #


The art is beautiful! As is your photography Smile Thank you for sharing. I love it!

cheryl United States | Reply

12/5/2012 9:13:50 AM #

Kathy Hensley

Cheryl, thank you for your kind words!  I'm so glad you enjoyed the story.  Kathy

Kathy Hensley United States | Reply

Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview

Map of Our Journeys

(click the map to enlarge)
Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin